Community Submission: Innovate or Die - The Highs and Lows of Fantasy Football Innovation

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Thank you to Ben Munson (@benjaminmunson1) for submitting the below Community Submission. This article has been subject to minor edits to the formatting, but the written content remains almost untouched.

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Community Submission: Innovate or Die - The Highs and Lows of Fantasy Football Innovation


There is a debate in the business world on the origin of the phrase “innovate or die” but the sentiment is clear: to succeed and prosper you need to evolve and adapt to remain important. We all love fantasy football; you would not be reading this article and I would not have written it if we did not. However, with the prospect of 21 months of continuous football, compressed seasons and fantasy fatigue, this business term has never been more relevant. With the start of each new season, league commissioners around the globe try to tread the cautious line between fiddling with existing rules and keeping the status-quo to appease their long-term fantasy players.


Our League


Having been a member of our private English Premier League fantasy football league for the last four years, I have experienced the turbulence during the transition from Togga to Fantrax, with others among us having memories of the pre-Togga days. The point I am making is that the is no standard fantasy football manager; players vary and the platforms that they use also have to offer that flexibility to maintain their loyalty. Fantasy Premier League has huge membership and offers a pick-up-and-play entry into the world of fantasy football; whereas Fantrax offers much more depth, but with that potentially comes a steeper learning curve, especially to those not familiar with the more complex scoring system. Even within our private league of 12, the level of engagement varies, with some spending weeks studying draft literature to others who pick-up gaps in their line-ups purely based on the team announcements on the day. Therefore, we aim to keep the rules simple enough to follow, but diverse enough to be creative and find players and strategies that give managers an edge.


However, we have recognised that the rules are not always fit for purpose and ,therefore, this year we introduced a new rule proposal system where any suggested new rule can be raised for a majority vote if it is seconded by another league member. Any rules not passing the majority vote result in the manager that raised the rule no longer having rule creation rights for the remainder of that season. Once a season commences, all new rulings that affect the official scoring are not reflected until the following season, as this may have impacted manager draft strategies. An example of this was that the scoring for penalty misses and GK assists were raised and voted on mid-season, which meant that, if successful, these would be introduced from the EPL 21/22 season onwards.


Roles

  • The role of commissioner is a tough one, with difficult decisions needing to be made throughout the season.

  • So, to mitigate for biases or commissioner fatigue, we elected a vice-commissioner to support on ruling where needed.

  • As many of us have experienced, sometimes the rules of the league are not as clear as they first seem, so this is where our ethical officer comes in to decide on where the moral lines are blurred, and the game's integrity may be in doubt. They have the power to keep the league and commissioner accountable and present the legal argument on whether an offence has been committed.

  • As expected, there is potential for power abuse in this role, but this is why an external court of arbitration or in our case The Court of Dan’s (all named Daniel) interpret the ethical officer’s findings and suggest a punishment where required. All decisions can be appealed but at the potential cost of the doubling the severity of any punishment if it persists.

  • Finally, the Social Secretary is responsible for organising the in-person and virtual (this year) league events. Ultimately, at the heart of everything, the league is about social interaction with other members. Luckily, we are in a league predominately based out of the UK (although I am now in West Africa and another member recently moved to Europe). But we aim to meet up three times a year, once for the draft, once for January transfer window player roulette, and finally for the end of season final weekend. The player roulette is a favourite tradition of ours, where every team can save one player and the rest of the league votes on which remaining player of theirs to put in the hat. All teams then randomly draw a player from the pot, hence the name player roulette.


All roles, apart from the commissioner are rotated annually based on a democratic election. The official league rules document is circulated prior to the season and all rules, roles, and scoring are fixed at this stage.


Teams


In the last 2 years, we have noticed that there has been a drop off of engagement from the middle of the pack: those safe from relegation but no longer with a chance to reach the playoffs. This lack of engagement clearly decreases the fun for all managers. So this year we trialed TEAMS. Here's how it works:

  • Each of four teams consists of three managers.

  • Each manager’s fantasy point scores are added up across the season.

  • The team with the fewest points after game-week 38 must do a forfeit penalty, which requires the team to get as far as they can on a £20 train fare and drink 5 pints in the worst pub that can be found.

This team idea turned out to be a resounding success; luckily the 3rd and 4th placed teams were neck and neck going into the final sprint. This managed to keep all managers engaged and committed to scoring as many fantasy points as possible throughout the run-in. I learnt the hard way that teamwork and collusion are too closely connected. What I thought was a crafty pick up of Neto without losing my waiver priority, ended with my losing him and getting a team point deduction that would have sent my team on this train ride, had it not been for some playoff record point scoring. Listen closely kids to someone whose been down that path and come out the other side to tell his tale: collusion doesn’t pay.


"5 pints in the worst pub that can be found." Now, that's imagination!


Final Thoughts


During our socials, we try to use in person challenges as much as possible, which have fantasy football implications in Fantrax. These ranged from "quickest mystery vegetable eaten" to determine draft position (I feel sorry for Mr. Leek), through to "the best rendition of film classics" to win extra free agent claims... the screams of Free Willy still haunt my dreams. This mix of in-person and virtual team bonding, as well as the weekly debates over why OPTA did not register your left-back's last tackle, is why we love this game. The year-on-year innovations certainly help to keep it fresh and exciting, but it is the gradual, careful integration of the rule changes that balances the game and keeps you mindful of why it is that you are happy to scroll through the hundreds of WhatsApp messages every Saturday morning. So, if in this “off-season,” you are considering integrating some changes to your league, my recommendation to you is to first take a step back and appreciate why you play and what you get out of it. Complexity does not always lead to a more enjoyable playing experience. Are you playing in 20 leagues or investing quality time into really getting to know those managers in your top few favourite leagues? Sometimes the old adage of "quality over quantity" may be as simple as it is true. There is no right or wrong way to play fantasy football, and that’s okay; but my recommendation is to remember your mental health, let it not be a chore, and if you’ve been struggling at all with fantasy fatigue, remember that it is okay to strip it back to basics and really make sure you fall back in love with the game that captures our imagination every time ASM gets the ball. Commissioners out there: innovation and change are good, but using it sparingly is even better.



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